Evidence of Effective Adolescent Literacy Programs

Some two-thirds of U.S. eighth graders failed to achieve proficient reading levels in 2011. Struggling readers face mounting difficulties at higher grades and often fall increasingly behind. Educators badly need effective measures to target teen reading problems, yet few of the available programs have been rigorously tested. In 2012, SEDL completed a rigorous study of one popular program to expand the evidence base and help ensure that struggling adolescent readers get the support they need.

SEDL conducts randomized controlled trials (RCTs), the gold standard in research on intervention effectiveness, to provide rigorous evidence of programs and practices that promote learning. In 2012, we completed a Striving Readers RCT for the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). The 2-year experimental trial assessed the implementation and effectiveness of Voyager Passport Reading Journeys, a widely used supplemental program for adolescents reading 2 or more years below grade level. The program is used in more than 500 school districts nationwide.

SEDL collaborated with LDOE, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Voyager to develop and implement a rigorous study design across 10 middle schools. More than 1,200 struggling readers in grades 6 and 7 participated. Researchers randomly assigned students to one of two groups for the 2010–2011 school year. The team then used mixed methods to collect fall baseline data and spring follow-up data on student reading performance and motivation as well as teacher implementation.

Overall findings were positive, showing the program improved student reading performance relative to other supplemental programs or electives. In particular, the program boosted reading comprehension and vocabulary, and 7th graders and boys experienced greater gains. However, the program had no effect on student motivation or engagement in reading.

The findings provide reliable evidence that educators can use to guide their decisions when choosing a program to support struggling readers. And for teens who labor to decipher the words on a page, better support opens the way to success.

Louisiana Striving Readers Research Study chart

For more information, please visit www.sedl.org/re/. You may also contact Michael Vaden-Kiernan, SEDL director of Research and Evaluation, at michael.vaden-kiernan@sedl.org or 800-476-6861, ext. 6562.